Cordyceps extract health benefit, supplement dosage, safety, side effects and benefit for immune system and medical diseases
March 27 2014

Cordyceps sinensis, a Chinese tonifying herb, has been widely used for centuries in Asian countries as a medicine and a health supplement. It has become more prominent in the US in the past few years.

Traditional uses
Cordyceps sinensis is commonly used to replenish the kidney and soothe the lung, and for the treatment of fatigue. It also can be used to treat conditions such as night sweating, low sexual desire, high blood sugar, high cholesterol or blood lipids, asthenia after severe illness, respiratory disease, renal dysfunction, renal failure, arrhythmias and other types of heart disease and liver disease. There is good evidence that it has an influence on immune responses.

A caterpillar and a fungus
Cordyceps sinensis is a parasitic complex of fungus and caterpillar, which has been used for medicinal purposes for centuries particularly in China, Japan and other Asian countries. It is an ascomycete fungus that grows on the Lepidopteron insect. Several mycelia strains have been isolated from natural cordyceps and manufactured by fermentation technology, and are commonly sold as health food products. In addition, some substitutes such as Cordyceps militaris and adulterants also have been used; therefore, quality control is very important to ensure its safety and efficacy.

Purchase Cordyceps extract supplement

CordycepsStandardized to 0.18% adenosine) used in clinical studies.
Suggested Use:  One cordyceps pill a few times a week, or as recommended by your health care professional.


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Availability as a supplement
There are hundreds of cordyceps supplements sold in the US and many more in China and Asian countries. They each may have slightly or moderately different chemical compositions. The ideal dosage for daily intake or for the treatment of a health condition is not yet clear due to a paucity of human clinical trials. These are some products you will find over the counter.

Cordyceps sinensis Mycelia CS-4 – 600 mg, standardized extract (0.1% adenosine)
Mycelia 300 mg
Mycellium 500 milligrams

Common names
Common names for preparations include DongChongXiaCao in Chinese, and winter worm summer grass in English.

Cordyceps has many bioactive components including 3′-deoxyadenosine, cordycepic acid, polysaccharides, and aurantiamidesnamed cordyceamides A and B. The main nucleosides include thymine, adenine, adenosine and cordycepin.

Cordyceps species are used medicinally in China. All species are endoparasitoids, mainly on insects and other arthropods. A few are parasitic on other fungi. Common medicinal species include:

C. sinensis
C. militaris – Cordycepin is a major bioactive component of Cordyceps militaris, along with citrostadienol, tetracosanoic acid 2, 3-dihydroxypropyl ester, ergosterol, ergosterol peroxide, adenosine, N-(2-hydroxyethyl) adenosine.
Effect of Cordyceps militaris extract and active constituents on metabolic parameters of obesity induced by high-fat diet in C58BL/6J mice. J Ethnopharmacol. 2014 Jan 10.
C. pruinosa
C. ophioglossoides

Studies, research and health benefits

Effect on endurance exercise
This fungus supplement does not seem to have an effect on endurance.

Cordyceps Sinensis (CordyMax Cs-4) supplementation does not improve endurance exercise performance.
Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab. 2004; Parcell AC, , Myrer JW. Human Performance Research Center at Brigham Young Uninversity, Provo, UT, USA.
It is purported that supplementation with Cordyceps Sinensis (CordyMax Cs-4) will improve oxidative capacity and endurance performance. The intent of this investigation was to examine the effects of CordyMax Cs-4 supplementation on endurance performance in endurance-trained cyclists. Twenty-two male cyclists participated in 5 weeks of supplementation with CordyMax Cs-4 tablets 3 grams a day. Five weeks of CordyMax Cs-4 supplementation has no effect on aerobic capacity or endurance exercise performance in endurance-trained male cyclists.

Effects of a commercial herbal-based formula on exercise performance in cyclists.
Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2004; Earnest CP, Morss GM, Wyatt F, Colson S, Fitzgerald Y, Autrey L, Jurca R, Lucia A. Center for Human Performance and Nutrition Research, The Cooper Institute Center for Human Performance and Nutrition Research, Dallas, TX, USA.
We examined the effects of a commercially marketed herbal-based formula purported to increase endurance on oxygen consumption in 17 competitive category amateur cyclists.: Each cyclist was given three treatment capsules contained 1000 mg of Cordyceps sinensis (CS-4) and 300 mg Rhodiola rosea root extract as the primary ingredients; 800 mg of other ingredients included calcium pyruvate, sodium phosphate, potassium phosphate, ribose, and adenosine and 200 mcg of chromium. A 2-wk ingestion schema of a commercial herbal-based formula is insufficient to elicit positive changes in cycling performance.

Kidney transplantation patients
Clinical application and exploration on mechanism of action of Cordyceps sinesis mycella prepration for renal transplantation recipients
Zhongguo Zhong Xi Yi Jie He Za Zhi. 2009. The First Affiliated Hospital, Medical College of Xi’an Jiaotong University, Xi’an.
To retrospectively study and analyse the immune regulatory effect of Bailing Capsule (BLC, a dry powder preparation of Cordyceps sinensis mycelia) on patients after renal transplantation, its influences on various systems of organism, and to explore its possible acting mechanism. In accordance with the entry criteria, 67 recipients of renal homo-allograft were assigned to two groups. The 42 cases in the control group were treated with mycophenolate mofetil (MMF) plus cyclosporine A (CsA), or tacrolimus (FK506) plus prednisone (Pred); the 25 in the treated group treated with the chemotherapy the same as in the control group plus BLC. They were followed up for 48 weeks by checking up blood routine, urine routine, hepatic and renal function, total serum protein, serum albumin, uric acid, etc., and the dosage of immunoinhibitors used was recorded periodically. BLC could effectively protect liver and kidney, stimulate hemopoietic function, improve hypoproteinemia, as well as reduce the incidence of infection and the dosage of CsA and FK506 used, etc. Therefore, it is a useful drug for immunoregulation after organ transplantation.

Lung Fibrosis
Protective roles of Cordyceps on lung fibrosis in cellular and rat models.
J Ethnopharmacol. 2012. School of Chinese Medicine, The Chinese University of Hong Kong, Shatin, Hong Kong.
Idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis is a chronic, irreversible and debilitating lung disease showing fibroblast/myofibroblast expansion and excessive deposition of extracellular matrix in the interstitium leading to breathing difficulty. Our previous observation revealed a partial relief of lung fibrosis in patients suffering from severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS). We hypothesize that Cordyceps has beneficial effects on lung fibrosis and the objective of this study is to explore the target(s) of Cordyceps in the relief of lung fibrosis in animal and cell models and to gain insight into its underlying mechanisms. A rat model of bleomycin (BLM)-induced lung fibrosis and a fibrotic cell model with transforming growth factor beta-1 induction were employed in the studies. Reduction of infiltration of inflammatory cells, deposition of fibroblastic loci and collagen, formation of reactive oxygen species, and production of cytokines were observed in fibrotic rats after treatment with Cordyceps in preventive (from the day of BLM administration) and therapeutic (from 14 days after BLM) regimens. In a fibrotic cell model with transforming growth factor beta-1 induction, the human lung epithelial A549 acquired a mesenchymal phenotype and an increase of vimentin expression with a concomitant decrease of E-cadherin. This epithelial-mesenchymal transition could be partially reverted by cordycepin, a major component of Cordyceps. The findings provide an insight into the preventive and therapeutic potentials of Cordyceps for the treatment of lung fibrosis.

Lupus nephritis
Study on effect of Cordyceps sinensis and artemisinin in preventing recurrence of lupus nephritis
Zhongguo Zhong Xi Yi Jie He Za Zhi. 2002; Department of Nephrology, Second People’s Hospital of Guilin, Guangxi.
To observe the effect of Cordyceps sinensis and artemisinin in preventing recurrence of lupus nephritis. Sixty-one lupus nephritis patients, who had no activities by corticosterone and cyclophosphamide impacting therapy were randomly divided into two groups. The 31 cases in the treated group were given Cordyceps powder 2-4 g/d before meal and artemisinin after meal in three portions orally taken for 3 years. The 30 patients in the control group were treated with tripterygiitotorum and/or Baoshenkang tablet. Cordyceps and artemisinin could prevent the recurrence of lupus nephritis and protect kidney function.

Safety and side effects
No major cordyceps side effects have been mentioned in the medical literature.

Cordyceps militaris
Cancer treatment
Indian J Biochem Biophys. 2012.
Cordycepin induces apoptosis in human neuroblastoma SK-N-BE(2)-C and melanoma SK-MEL-2 cells.
College of Natural Resources and Life Science, Medi-farm Industrialization Research Center, Dong-A University, Busan, South Korea.
In this study, the effect of cordycepin, a major component of Cordyceps militaris, an ingredient of traditional Chinese medicine was investigated for the first time on apoptotsis in human neuroblastoma SK-N-BE(2)-C and melanoma SK-MEL-2 cells. Cordycepin significantly inhibited the proliferation of human neuroblastoma SK-N-BE(2)-C and human melanoma cells. Cordycepin treatment induced apoptosis in both cells and caused the increase of cell accumulation in a time-dependent manner at the apoptotic sub-G1 phase, as evidenced by the flow cytometry (FCM) and annexin V-fluorescein isothiocyanate (FITC) analyses. Results suggest that cordycepin is a potential candidate for cancer therapy of neuroblastoma and melanoma.

Breast cancer treatment potential
Induction of apoptosis by aqueous extract of Cordyceps militaris through activation of caspases and inactivation of Akt in human breast cancer MDA-MB-231 Cells.
J Microbiol Biotechnol. 2008; Department of Biomaterial Control, Dongeui University Graduate School and Department of Biochemistry, Dongeui University College of Oriental Medicine, Busan, Korea.
Cordyceps militaris is well known as a traditional medicinal mushroom and has been shown to exhibit immunostimulatory and anticancer activities. In this study, we investigated the apoptosis induced by an aqueous extract of C. militaris (AECM) via the activation of caspases and altered mitochondrial membrane permeability in human breast cancer MDA-MB-231 cells. Exposure to AECM induced apoptosis, as demonstrated by a quantitative analysis of nuclear morphological change and a flow cytometric analysis. Our results indicate that AECM-induced apoptosis may relate to the activation of caspase-3 and mitochondria dysfunctions that correlate with the inactivation of Akt.

Rheumatoid arthritis
Cordycepin inhibits IL-1beta-induced MMP-1 and MMP-3 expression in rheumatoid arthritis synovial fibroblasts.
Rheumatology (Oxford). 2009; Department of Biochemistry, Institute for Medical Science, Chonbuk National University Medical School, Jeonju, South Korea.
MMP is a key enzyme in the degradation of extracellular matrices, and its expression plays important roles in inflammatory diseases. Cordycepin, a bioactive compound of Cordyceps militaris, has been shown to exhibit many pharmacological activities, such as anti-cancer, anti-inflammatory and anti-infection activities. Cordycepin is a potent inhibitor of IL-1beta-induced chemokine production and MMP expression and strongly blocks the p38/JNK/AP-1 signalling pathway in RASFs.